What Are Vitamin C Supplements Good For? Benefits For Skin & More*
As an essential micronutrient with myriad functions in the body, vitamin C can do some pretty incredible things for the body.* Yes, that includes strengthening your immune system—but also much more.* Moreover, humans are some of the few mammals who can't make our own vitamin C, so it's critical to get enough through diet and/or supplements every day. Here, learn about the science-backed benefits of this powerhouse nutrient:
1. Vitamin C supports your immune system.*
Daily immunity shield to strengthen your body’s natural defenses, with 111% of the daily value for vitamin C.*
"Vitamin C plays a large role in supporting immune function,*" notes Joanna Foley, R.D., CLT, founder of a private holistic health coaching practice. On a cellular level, vitamin C helps immune cells do their complex jobs properly to neutralize pathogens, she says.* For example, it promotes multiplication of lymphocytes—a type of white blood cell—to combat foreign invaders in the body.* Vitamin C also helps neutrophils, another type of white blood cell, "eat" and destroy bad microbes.*
The antioxidative properties of vitamin C protect the immune system, too.* Acute oxidative stress is normal and useful for immune function, but prolonged oxidative stress is not normal, nor good for overall health. Getting enough vitamin C, along with other antioxidants, is key to maintaining a strong and resilient immune system.*
2. It helps combat oxidative stress.*
Oxidative stress happens when your body produces free radicals, and it's a normal outcome of our immune cells doing their hard work to protect us. Antioxidants like vitamin C are molecules that combat oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals.* They are critical to strike a healthy oxidative balance in the body.*
According to Keira Barr, M.D., dual board-certified dermatologist, vitamin C helps protect your skin from free radical exposure (like UV rays and air pollution).* This helps pump the brakes on many types of skin woes, including sun damage, hyperpigmentation, and wrinkles.*
For optimal skin benefits, Barr suggests supplementing with vitamin C* and applying it topically. This ensures that there is enough vitamin C biologically available and active in and on the skin.* "Including vitamin C in your morning routine will help fend off damage from environmental exposures during the day," she notes. "[Applying] it at night will help support skin rejuvenation in the evening."*
3. Vitamin C promotes your natural collagen production.*
Collagen is essential for strong and supple skin. It also gives structure to other connective tissues, including blood vessels and tendons. But as we get older, our body's usual formation of collagen decreases, leading to thinner skin and less of this major building block for our various tissues and their healing.
To support healthy skin aging, be sure to get enough vitamin C.* "Vitamin C is a key cofactor in the synthesis of collagen and elastin, [which helps] give your skin that plump and youthful appearance," says Barr.* The nutrient also protects the collagen you already have by working against collagen-degrading enzymes.*
4. It promotes healthy cognitive function.*
When it comes to brain health, nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids frequently steal the show. But did you know vitamin C plays a role, too? Once again, this is due to its core antioxidant actions. "Free radicals can cause wear and tear to all parts of the body, including the brain and mind," explains Foley. However, as an antioxidant, vitamin C can help combat oxidative stress to help support healthy cognitive function.*
Vitamin C is important for the health of nerve cells as well.* "It supports the myelin sheath that protects [neurons], allowing for quicker impulse transmissions and quicker signals," says Amy Shapiro, M.S., R.D., CDN. Interestingly, proper formation of the myelin sheath is linked to vitamin-C-dependent collagen production, proving how synergistic our bodies' processes and essential nutrients like vitamin C truly are.*
5. Vitamin C helps support healthy blood pressure.*
Taking vitamin C supplements may help naturally support healthy blood pressure.* It promotes the body's production of a molecule called nitric oxide. This molecule is a powerful vasodilator, which means it dilates—or opens—blood vessels, which functionally helps lower blood pressure.
But wait—there's more. Vitamin C has diuretic properties, "causing the kidneys to remove more sodium and water from the body," says Foley.* This "helps relax blood vessel walls and lower blood pressure."* It can also maintain or restore flexibility in artery cell walls, which decreases plaque formation and improves blood flow, she adds.*
Use caution if you have low blood pressure, though. Due to the potential hypotensive effects of vitamin C, it's best to check with your doctor first.
6. It enhances iron absorption.*
Iron absorption is a fickle, complex process. It depends on many factors, including the form of iron (and food source) and your existing iron stores. It's also influenced by your intake of vitamin C, which plays a supportive role in iron absorption.* According to Shapiro, it turns non-heme iron—which is found in plants—into a more absorbable form. (The nutrient does this by supporting the solubility of iron in the small intestine).* This is important because non-heme iron isn't as bioavailable as heme iron in animals.
The nutrient "can also help reverse the inhibiting effect of other substances that delay iron absorption, such as phytates in certain foods," adds Foley.* So, for best results, Shapiro recommends consuming iron and vitamin C at the same meal.
What else should you know:
Overall, taking vitamin C supplements or a multi-ingredient supplement with vitamin C is considered safe for most individuals. Patients with a history of kidney stones should take caution, as too much vitamin C can potentially increase oxalates and worsen or increase kidney stones (i.e., too much means high-dose vitamin C at 1,000 mg or higher).
And be mindful of how you store the supplements. "Vitamin C is photolabile, which means it needs to be stored in a darker-colored bottle and out of direct sunlight," says Barr. This will ensure that you "reap the benefits and maintain the potency of your product."
The bottom line:
There's a reason vitamin C gets so much praise for its plethora of health benefits: It really is a do-it-all vitamin, supporting immune, skin, cognitive, and cardiovascular health.* "Ideally you're getting vitamin C from food, yet it can be hard to get enough in the diet to reap all of [its] benefits," notes Foley. Vitamin C is a common gap in the American diet. So, if you think vitamin C supplements have a place in your wellness routine, talk to your health care provider to determine the right dose and frequency for you.